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Feminist Biblical Studies in the Twentieth Century

Feminist Biblical Studies in the Twentieth Century: Scholarship and Movement

Edited by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza
  • Book Info
    Feminist Biblical Studies in the Twentieth Century
    Book Description:

    Chart the development of feminist approaches and theories of interpretation during the period when women first joined the ranks of biblical scholars

    This collection of essays on feminist biblical studies in the twentieth century seeks to explore four areas of inquiry demanding further investigation. In the first section, articles chart the beginnings and developments of feminist biblical studies as a conversation among feminists around the world. The second section introduces, reviews, and discusses the hermeneutic religious spaces created by feminist biblical studies. The third segment discusses academic methods of reading and interpretation that dismantle androcentric language and kyriarchal authority. The fourth section returns to the first with work that transgresses academic boundaries in order to exemplify the transforming, inspiring, and institutionalizing feminist work that has been and is being done to change religious mindsets of domination and to enable wo/men to engage in critical readings of the Bible.


    Essays examine the rupture or break in the malestream reception history of the BibleExploration of the termfeminismin different social-cultural and theoretical-religious locationsAuthors from around the world present research and future directions for research challenging the next generation of feminist interpreters

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-921-2
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Between Movement and Academy: Feminist Biblical Studies in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 1-18)
    Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

    According to its main editors, this encyclopedia, Bible and Women, is conceived as a reception-history project in theology and gender research that originated in Europe and developed into an international undertaking. They understand the project as follows:

    This encyclopedia could … be seen as a gender-inclusive display room of what the reception history of the Bible might also be if we include a focus on the reception of gender-relevant texts and interpretations generated by women…. They represent, in fact, an untapped world that we believe biblical scholars should pay more attention to rather than continuing to inhabit only a small...

  5. Part 1: Charting Feminist Biblical Studies around the Globe

    • Movement and Emerging Scholarship: Feminist Biblical Scholarship in the 1970s in the United States
      (pp. 21-34)
      Judith Plaskow

      The history of feminist biblical scholarship in the 1970s in the United States cannot be separated from the larger history of the feminist movement. Its emergence was tied to, and was one expression of, the new consciousness that erupted in the late 1960s and early 1970s as women began to question their received roles in family, society, politics, and religion. Meeting in small consciousness-raising groups that sprang up across the country, women began to explore and analyze aspects of their lives that they had previously taken for granted. As they began to make connections between their individual experiences and the...

    • Feminist Biblical Studies in Latin America and the Caribbean
      (pp. 35-52)
      Elsa Tamez

      Today it is possible to find much work in feminist biblical studies in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in articles.¹La Revista de Interpretación Bíblica Latinoamericana(RIBLA) contains a surprising number of feminist authors. This was not so in the 1980s, when women were timidly beginning to write. Only two decades ago, in the beginning of the 1990s, did the contributions of feminist biblical scholars begin to grow. The objective of this article is to provide an understanding of these contributions, their historical background, exegesis, hermeneutics, focuses, methods, diversity, levels, and obstacles. I privilege the journalRIBLAas a...

    • “Stirring Up Vital Energies”: Feminist Biblical Studies in North America (1980s–2000s)
      (pp. 53-70)
      Susanne Scholz

      The rise of feminist biblical studies in North America has been an ocean wave flooding the malestream world of biblical scholarship engendered by the social movements of the time.¹ Early on, feminist biblical scholars believed themselves to be the first to critically examine Christian and Jewish sacred texts with feminist epistemology. They knew little about the accomplishments of previous generations of feminists and even less about the suffragists who opposed the use of the Bible in justification of North American women’s secondary status.² Only by chance did second-wave feminists discover the first feminist commentary on the Bible, published in the...

    • Feminist Biblical Studies in Africa
      (pp. 71-86)
      Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango

      African women’s interest in the Bible and their recognition of its power began with the first African women’s encounters with the Bible. An example of this interest and recognition of power is evidenced in the exchange between Mmahutu (senior wife of chief Mothobi of the BaTlhaping people of South Africa) and the missionary John Campbell and his associates as early as 1813.¹ In the same general sense, feminist biblical studies began with the establishment of Christian churches by missionaries and the indigenous agents who established the African Indigenous churches (AIC). I consider these studies by women as “feminist” in the...

    • Intercultural Mapping of Feminist Biblical Studies: Southern Europe
      (pp. 87-104)
      Mercedes Navarro Puerto

      In this work I intend to construct a map of feminist biblical studies in my own context, Spain, in order to highlight who and what is visible and what this visibility implies in terms of power.¹ This kind of mapping highlights the ways in which feminism, like critical theory, is unable to conceptualize without politicizing. Nonetheless, it should be kept in mind that the map is not the territory.²

      The distinction between southern and northern Europe is not simply one of difference, but also one of separation and disconnection. During the first half of the last century and even into...

    • Toward Mapping Feminist Biblical Interpretations in Asia
      (pp. 105-120)
      Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon

      Feminist biblical studies/interpretations in Asia are relatively new. Nevertheless, it is imperative that this introductory section address inclusions and exclusions within this essay, and the problems and questions that may be raised but not adequately answered, in order to indicate some of the directions that future research may profitably take. The mapping or charting of feminist biblical studies in Asia is a complicated affair, particularly because the constitutive elements of the terms “Asian,” the “Asian woman,” and “feminist” are contested. However, these terms and the complexities that surround can also provide fruitful incitements to discourse.

      First, the problem of what...

  6. Part 2: Creating Feminist Hermeneutical Spaces in Religion

    • From Androcentric to Christian Feminist Exegesis: Genesis 1–3
      (pp. 123-144)
      Helen Schüngel-Straumann

      The background to this paper is the androcentric biblical exegesis in the twentieth century as it continues to have extensive influence on the beginnings of an explicitly feminist exegesis. At early stages of critical interpretation, critical women were already trying to argue against misogynist assertions of certain texts in both popular and theological writings and contexts. However, because women were largely denied access to specialist theological studies in the early twentieth century, they were forced to raise their concerns in other ways, for instance, in letters.

      The following explanations focus on the German-speaking area but also cite examples from the...

    • Jewish Feminist Biblical Studies
      (pp. 145-160)
      Cynthia Baker

      What makes Jewish feminist biblical study Jewish? Several possibilities come immediately to mind: (1) it is feminist biblical study carried out by Jews; (2) it is engaged biblical scholarship by Jewish women for, or on behalf of, a Jewish community or audience; (3) it is feminist Torah/Tanak study as an expression of the transformative feminist movement within and beyond the Jewish community; (4) it is feminist study that engages with themidrashictradition of Jewish biblical interpretation through critical exploration of classical rabbinic midrash and/or through feminist contributions to the midrashic process and genre. A fifth form of Jewish feminist...

    • A Christian Feminist Hermeneutics of the Bible
      (pp. 161-178)
      Rosa Cursach Salas

      This essay does not claim to cover the entire scope or to provide an overview of feminist biblical hermeneutics. It would be impossible to report fully on its development during the past forty years, since it is the result of a variety of cultural, racial, social, and religious approaches—which accounts for its richness and fullness. For this reason, I decided to limit myself in particular to the contributions made by the work of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, despite her objections. Since centering her intellectual work on the theoretical framework of feminist biblical interpretation, she has also tried to respond to...

    • Rereading the Qur’ān from a Gender Justice Perspective
      (pp. 179-198)
      Zayn Kassam

      Like their monotheistic Jewish and Christian sisters, Muslim women must also consider the patriarchal context of centuries of interpretation of their primary sacred text, which for Muslims is the Qur’ān. Identifying this context, which has driven interpretations of the Qur’ān that women find to be essentialist and unjust, several scholars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have sought to reexamine the Qur’ān for its gender justice potential. They have found that the Qur’ān does offer more guidelines for gender justice than medieval Muslim male interpreters could previously imagine, due to their normative patriarchal context.

      When considering the issue of qur’ānic...

    • Struggling with Mindsets of Domination
      (pp. 199-214)
      Jacqueline M. Hidalgo

      In the late twentieth century, a group of indigenous Americans returned the Bible to Pope John Paul II during a visit to Perú. As “Indians of the Andes and America,” they relinquished the Bible “because in five centuries it has given us neither love, nor peace, nor justice.” They urged, “Please, take your Bible and give it back to our oppressors, because they need its moral precepts more than we…. The Bible came to us as part of imposed colonial change. It was the ideological arm of the colonial assault. The Spanish sword … by night changed itself into the...

  7. Part 3: Reading Otherwise:: Methods of Interpretation

    • Texts and Readers, Rhetorics and Ethics
      (pp. 217-232)
      Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre

      This chapter focuses on feminist work emerging in the twentieth century in the context of the rise of literary, rhetorical, and ideological criticisms in biblical studies. Exploring the power of the language of the Bible and of its readers, feminist biblical studies has played an important role in developing new critical methods, exposing the politics of the discipline of biblical studies, and promoting conversation about diverse reading communities and the ethics of interpretation.

      Traditionally, religious communities and the academy have approached the Bible as a self-evident source of church doctrine or as window onto the reality of the past. However,...

    • Feminist Biblical Historiography
      (pp. 233-248)
      Shelly Matthews

      This essay considers methods employed in the writing of feminist biblical history in the late twentieth century along with issues of central concern in these historical narratives. The plethora of scholarship produced on this topic makes the undertaking both celebratory and daunting—celebratory, owing to the substantial nature of the corpus under consideration; daunting, owing to the necessity of shorthand in an article constrained by limitations of space.

      Much historiographic energy in this time period has been devoted to the project of retrieval—of restoring wo/men¹ to the historical record. Thus, methods employed in these retrieval projects, beginning in the...

    • Different Feminist Methods and Approaches: Biblical Women’s Studies
      (pp. 249-260)
      Marinella Perroni

      Taking stock of the present situation of biblical women’s studies involves something more than a mere glance at the numerous and often disparate works that have come into existence in practically every linguistic region of the planet, particularly during the second half of the twentieth century. Since recognition of women’s studies in the most diverse academic settings is not a fait accompli, and our way of examining it and evaluating its importance is not without certain ambiguities, it is important to revisit several basic questions that are still of current interest, including those specifically pertaining to biblical studies. I hope...

    • Queer Studies and Critical Masculinity Studies in Feminist Biblical Studies
      (pp. 261-280)
      Joseph A. Marchal

      In the previous and current centuries, feminist studies has taken many forms, made both wide and specific impacts, and interacted with a range of allied or affiliated areas of study (as evidenced by the contributions within this volume). The development of queer studies and critical studies of masculinity reflect these feminist forms, impacts, and areas of study. Indeed, the relationship among these approaches has been a fraught one, with occasionally competing (or even clashing) timelines, even as there were also striking confluences between feminist, queer, and critical masculinity studies. Certainly feminisms influenced both of these academic developments, as will become...

    • Postcolonial Feminist Biblical Criticism: An Exploration
      (pp. 281-292)
      Tan Yak-hwee

      Let me begin with my social location, which has in many respects informed my interest in exploring postcolonial feminist biblical criticism. I was born when Singapore was still a British colony, and even though Singapore gained its independence in the late 1950s, the education system was still very British in orientation. Since I went to a Christian missionary school, I learned more about the Bible, British history, and English literature than about Chinese history and literature. As a result, my identity and status were influenced by such lenses—a form of discursive colonialism of the mind had taken place. Such...

    • Canons Unbound
      (pp. 293-306)
      Denise Kimber Buell

      All feminist biblical interpreters call for some kinds of transformations, within Judaism or Christianity, within academic practices, or in contemporary politics. Feminist biblical interpreters have demonstrated that canons are of political and ethical concern to religious and nonreligious folks alike; biblical canons are not simply authoritative texts conveying the content from which Jewish or Christian identities are constituted, nor is canon simply the law that regulates legitimate religious identities. Making canon an object of scrutiny enables feminists to critique the relationship between collective identities (especially, but not only, religious ones), texts, and reading practices.

      The term “biblical canon” refers to...

  8. Part 4: Working for Change and Transformation

    • Where Do You Come From? Where Are You Going? Feminist Interreligious Bibliodrama in a German Context
      (pp. 309-324)
      Leony Renk

      “What is in the past of the Jews, the Turks have ahead of them.” I read this horrific prediction on a house wall in Berlin at the beginning of the 1980s and was deeply shocked. This graffiti reminded me of the disturbing events in my village at the end of the war in 1945, when I was six years old, the depressing, stultifying silence that followed our children’s questions, and the disconsolate phrase: “One is powerless here.” Alongside wartime and postwar memories, however, were also the liberating experiences during the student revolts at the end of the 1960s, when the...

    • Wo/men in Liturgy and Art on Wisdom’s Paths
      (pp. 325-338)
      Regula Grünenfelder

      A police officer appeared at the break of dawn and quietly carried off the school satchel of our neighbor’s boy. The refugee family was deported unannounced to an unknown destination. Many in the small Swiss village reacted with dismay and signed a letter of protest to the authorities. The children’s education was not even considered. The Swiss children cried and wrote farewell letters to their schoolmates and their parents, as a teacher reported, “whom they would never see again.” Three days later, the refugee family was back again. The police had taken them out of the country and left them...

    • A Long History of Sowing, from Which Miracles Occasionally Grow: Bible Translations in Language That Is Just
      (pp. 339-364)
      Claudia Janssen and Hanne Köhler

      Bible translations do not appear out of nowhere, but emerge under certain social conditions and from within specific power networks. Furthermore, translations are always influenced by preconceptions and by the theologies of those involved, as well as other contextual factors.² These include economic considerations, images of the Bible as a cultural asset,³ and issues of theological/church teaching and authority.⁴ Since the Bible was, and is, often perceived as an important document for independent faith and for legitimizing religious institutions, the history of Bible translation is marked by conflict. These conflicts, which at times have been life-threatening for translators, continue today...

    • The Institutionalization of Feminist Biblical Studies in Its International and Ecumenical Contexts (Dossier)
      (pp. 365-394)
      Renate Jost

      Feminist biblical studies, as a fundamental component of the feminist movement in theology and religion, has accomplished much in the last thirty years worldwide. Its influence on scholarship and on church and religious history is a source of pride, and its contributions must be recognized. It is particularly important in times of conservative reaction not to retreat behind what has been accomplished.

      The goal of this contribution is to collect some of the fundamental components of the institutionalization of feminist biblical studies. My primary focus is on institutions rather than persons, because they offer a context for further development. This...